Your dental hygiene could be a reflection of your heart health - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

Your dental hygiene could be a reflection of your heart health

Your toothbrush and a trip to the dentist could save your life. Periodontal or gum disease affects about 50 million Americans.

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, bad gums are linked with heart disease which is the number one killer of both men and women.

The next time you visit your dentist, don't be surprised if they also check your blood pressure.

Having an infection in your gums puts you at higher risk for suffering a heart attack.

If you don't want your follow-up visit to be at a cardiologist's office, you should consider getting serious about your dental care.

Your dentist may help prevent a heart attack by keeping a close eye on bacteria building up on, and under your gum line.  

The gunk that collects on our teeth is scientifically known as biofilm. It's normal since your mouth is teeming with microorganisms, but harmful if gum disease allows bad bacteria to enter the bloodstream.

"You're very unaware you've got a problem until it becomes a big problem," warns Dr. Lori J. Pappert, a dentist in Charlotte, NC. 

Periodontal or gum disease destroys bone and gum tissue, but that's just the root of the issue.

When dentists take a look at your smile, they are also shining a spotlight on the rest of your body because your gums are a reflection of your overall health.

When they see bleeding gums, smell an odor, or you're feeling sick, it's likely gum disease has already developed and caused serious damage.

"Periodontal disease is a huge problem," Pappert notes. 

If you already have a heart condition and inflammation in your mouth spreads, doctors believe the risk of heart attack and stroke then rises.

That's the main reason why they want checkups to be routine because the prescription they prefer to write is for preventative care. 

"Really, the only control you have is what you do every day," Pappert says.

Brushing twice a day and flossing, as well as replacing your toothbrush every few months and eating healthy foods, are your first defenses against preventing gum disease.   

If you scimp on dental care, or skip altogether your regular scrubbing, Pappert says, "It's going to be more costly to both your health and your pocket book."

Even with insurance, periodontal surgery and dental implants aren't cheap compared to the cost of a toothbrush and regular dental visits. The latter are a much smaller investment of time and money in keeping a healthy mouth, and ultimately, a healthy heart.  

Gum health is also particularly important for pregnant women. Doctors have found a correlation between gum disease and low birth weight.

Additional information:

  • Click here to assess your risk for developing periodontal disease. 
  • Non-surgical treatment for gum disease involves scaling and root planing (cleaning of the root surfaces to remove plaque and tarter from pockets.) Source: American Academy of Periodontology
  • Periodontal surgery occurs when the tissue around the teeth is very unhealthy and irreparable. Pocket reduction, regenerative procedures, crown lengthening, and soft tissue grafts may be used.
  • If a tooth is lost to periodontal disease, a permanent tooth replacement may be installed. Source: American Academy of Periodontology.
  • Other medical conditions also linked to oral health include diabetes, HIV, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's. 

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